Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

Independent Study

For many students who participate, independent research is the culmination of their undergraduate experience. You will engage in proposing hypotheses, devising ways to test them, developing experimental methods, analyzing data, and writing and rewriting your paper. You will take an active part in your education by working on a research project being carried out in the laboratory of one of the Biology Department faculty. No matter what your future career, this intense intellectual experience will be superb preparation.

The Biology Department facilities in the Barshinger Life Sciences and Philosophy Building feature 12 student-faculty research laboratories, greenhouses, and animal rooms. Specialized facilities and research equipment include a liquid scintillation counter for radioisotope studies, a gas chromatograph, a fluorometer, preparative and ultracentrifuges, electrophoresis equipment, a dark room, a cold room, a DNA sequencer, a quantitative thermal cycler and controlled environment chambers. A variety of equipment is also available for terrestrial and aquatic field studies. All equipment is available to students in courses; our research students learn to use even the most complex instruments. More information on faculty research interests here.

Students may enroll in Bio. 490 (seniors) or Bio. 390 (juniors), Independent Study, for one or two courses of elective credit towards the Biology major (see the College Catalog). Independent Study is typically performed with a professor as an adviser, and involves an independent research project performed in that professor's laboratory. The exact nature of the project is outlined in consultation with that professor but typically involves the continuation of on-going research. Some independent study projects result in a published journal article, some of which are on display on the second floor of the LSP. Different professors require different amounts of written work from the independent study student, but the Department requires a thesis at the end of the project, and a progress report at the end of the first semester in the case of two-semester projects. Written report instructions here.

In a typical year, up to a third of the senior biology majors will enroll in Bio. 490. Students who complete a two-semester project and who meet other requirements may be candidates for Departmental Honors; a successful oral defense of the project is required for Honors in Biology.


Any student with an interest in Bio. 390 or 490 should talk to faculty about the possibility of doing research. More information here. You will not be committing yourself! You may decide that research is not for you; that's fine. But don't hesitate to discuss the possibilities. You should think about one semester (fall or spring) or two semester projects. Talk to several faculty members about their work if you do not have a fixed idea of the area you wish to study. The specific project you do is not as important as the interactions you have with the faculty member who is sponsoring your research, and the opportunity to actively participate in your own education. You should think about your preferences for level of biological organization (population, organism, cell, molecule), the kinds of tools used in particular areas, and the styles of student/professor interaction that different faculty have. We also encourage you to talk to students who are currently enrolled in Bio. 390 or 490 or who have done summer research projects. Most faculty members will advise two or at most three independent study students at a time. Students in Bio. 390 or 490 must ordinarily have achieved a 3.0 average in major courses, but we have waived this requirement for students who have a strong commitment to research or who have shown improvement in their course work. If this policy affects you, don't hesitate to discuss your situation with potential research advisers.


Examples of Student Research Projects

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